After about a 24-hour wait, we will finally get to see a men’s tennis match today!
But will anyone else?
The men’s final will broadcast at 4 p.m. this afternoon on CBS. Unless this match goes four or five long and tough sets, there’s a good chance you won’t catch any of it. Tonight is also the debut of the Jets on Monday Night Football — which begins at 7 p.m. — and that’s another small bite of the audience that will watch football on ESPN instead of a fourth set between Rafa and Novak on CBS.
There’s reason for concern. Over the last two years, the ratings for the final Monday matches have been the worst of any Open men’s final since CBS started keeping the records in 1977.
Last year, the Federer–del Potro match received a 2.3 rating and, in 2008, the Federer-Murray match got a 1.7 (the rating is the percentage of televisions that are tuned into CBS around the country). The Federer–del Potro match got a boost because that match — a 5-set grinder — ended after 8 p.m., and leaked into CBS’ primetime lineup.
We can expect a similar result for tonight. Before we get all emotional about what this means for tennis, I feel like CBS deserves it, in a way. Last night’s disappointing rainout was, I suspect, mostly the network’s fault. The men’s match wasn’t supposed to begin until 4:30 and the cancellation was called at 6:18 p.m. That’s not much of a wait, especially considering how USTA officials always proudly declare that they’ll wait all night long to get a match started. They happily started two matches after 11 p.m. during this Open, after all. There’s no question that CBS played a heavy hand in getting the match called — if they waited any longer their primetime lineup would have been wiped away in favor of tennis — and it shouldn’t have been called that early.
At around 7:30 p.m., the rain came to a halt, and it never returned. The Men’s Final absolutely could have been completed last night, and how much better would it have been for the sport if it aired on a Sunday night in primetime instead of a Monday afternoon when everyone is at work?
As Zack Woolfe wrote last year, the network’s devotion to tennis is questionable. Last year, CBS happily handed the women’s final over to ESPN2 when it had to be rescheduled for Sunday night. This year, during the first weekend, Andy Murray was on the verge of going down in a four-set shocker, and once 6 p.m. hit, CBS pulled the plug, and went to the News. Only fans of The Tennis Channel got to see the rest. Which is to say: Not a lot of people.
This morning, Pat Kiernan tweeted, “Just got AM weather briefing. USTA couldn’t have picked a worse time than 4 pm for re-scheduled #USOpen final. Dry all day until then.” Let’s say it rains between 4 and 7 again: Will there be another cancellation? This is about to get absurd, and the USTA needs to figure out how much it answers to CBS.